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An Open Letter to Sheriff Koutoujian

The following contains my thoughts on the First Unitarian Society of Newton (FUSN) speaker series where Sheriff Koutoujian discussed his role, progress, and ideas for the future as Sheriff of Middlesex County on July 13th, 2015:

Sheriff Koutoujian,

To begin, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to engage with the people who have questions and concerns about the criminal justice system in Massachusetts. I would also like to thank Nancy Wrenn for putting it all together, and everyone who thoughtfully asked questions and shared opinions to you and the rest of the group. That said, I’d like to say something:

I am concerned.

The purpose of this forum was to allow community members ask questions, and understand the system and progress being made in Middlesex County. While I appreciate your candor and consideration of drug and alcohol treatment programs, post-release continuity of care, and the impracticality of cash bail, your attitude towards incarcerated people is disconcerting.

In describing many of the men and women in Middlesex County, your description of them as “heinous individuals” even though the majority of individuals--734 was the number you gave-- have yet to even be convicted of a crime. The 571 who have been convicted and sentenced will serve time in Middlesex for no more than two and a half years, leading me to believe that their crimes are, more likely than not, a far cry from “heinous.” In fact, I wonder how many of them are truly “predatory,” as you said, and how many are simply stuck in the revolving door of the Massachusetts criminal justice system that criminalizes and over-criminalizes individuals who have limited opportunities.

When asked how many people there are in the Middlesex jail, you were able to give exact numbers for the individuals who are, respectively, pretrial and already sentenced in your county, but the number you gave us for “protective custody” was simply “the remainder.”

To be clear, protective custody is a euphemism for segregation, and segregation is a euphemism for solitary confinement. Though you say that individuals are “only in there for a certain amount of time,” you never specified a maximum or minimum amount. To be sure, the UN special reporter on torture ruled that any time longer than 15 days “segregated,” as you put it, is torture.

Respectfully, Sheriff, we deserve more and you know it. When I asked why no public reports give any insight into segregation practices in Middlesex, you told me that there are “security issues” around conducting studies like this but that you are “transparent.” I’m left wondering why your transparency excludes an entire group of people in your county. We are asking for statistics on the races, age-groups, and crimes represented in segregation, not for names and addresses.

The day after you spoke to us, a man allegedly committed suicide at the Essex County Middleton jail. While I fully recognize that you have no control into what happens in other counties, I can’t help but fear that the consequences of Massachusetts’ criminal justice system don’t discriminate by county.

Sheriff Koutoujian, I write to you because I am concerned that the way you refer to the human beings you are responsible for negates the fact they still have rights and they still have consciences. We, the people, deserve to know what happens in the Middlesex County jail with the level of transparency you swear by.

I am concerned, and I only ask you to hear me.

Sincerely,

Eve Zuckoff
Criminal Justice Policy Coalition